In their thinking about human sinfulness, many believers may often be missing a key distinction that Scripture repeatedly makes in both Testaments between two major categories of sins:
1. Samuel the prophet rebuked King Saul for his disobedience with instruction that distinguished between the sin of witchcraft/divination and the sin of idolatry:
KJV 1Sa 15:23 For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. Because thou hast rejected the word of the LORD, he hath also rejected thee from being king.
NAS 1Sa 15:23 “For rebellion is as the sin of divination, And insubordination is as iniquity and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the LORD, He has also rejected you from being king.”
2. The author of Second Chronicles relates the horrific sinfulness of king Manasseh by speaking of his idolatry (2 Chron. 33:3-5 and 33:7) in distinction from his involvement with occult practices (2 Chron. 33:6):
KJV 2Ch 33:3 For he built again the high places which Hezekiah his father had broken down, and he reared up altars for Baalim, and made groves, and worshipped all the host of heaven, and served them.
NAS 2Ch 33:3 For he rebuilt the high places which Hezekiah his father had broken down; he also erected altars for the Baals and made Asherim, and worshiped all the host of heaven and served them.
KJV 2Ch 33:4 Also he built altars in the house of the LORD, whereof the LORD had said, In Jerusalem shall my name be for ever.
NAS 2Ch 33:4 And he built altars in the house of the LORD of which the LORD had said, “My name shall be in Jerusalem forever.”
KJV 2Ch 33:5 And he built altars for all the host of heaven in the two courts of the house of the LORD.
NAS 2Ch 33:5 For he built altars for all the host of heaven in the two courts of the house of the LORD.
KJV 2Ch 33:6 And he caused his children to pass through the fire in the valley of the son of Hinnom: also he observed times, and used enchantments, and used witchcraft, and dealt with a familiar spirit, and with wizards: he wrought much evil in the sight of the LORD, to provoke him to anger.
NAS 2Ch 33:6 And he made his sons pass through the fire in the valley of Ben-hinnom; and he practiced witchcraft, used divination, practiced sorcery, and dealt with mediums and spiritists. He did much evil in the sight of the LORD, provoking Him to anger.
KJV 2Ch 33:7 And he set a carved image, the idol which he had made, in the house of God, of which God had said to David and to Solomon his son, In this house, and in Jerusalem, which I have chosen before all the tribes of Israel, will I put my name for ever:
NAS 2Ch 33:7 Then he put the carved image of the idol which he had made in the house of God, of which God had said to David and to Solomon his son, “In this house and in Jerusalem, which I have chosen from all the tribes of Israel, I will put My name forever;
3. When Paul the Apostle lists various works of the flesh, he distinguishes between idolatry (Gal. 5:19) and witchcraft/sorcery (Gal. 5:20):
KJV Gal 5:19 Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness,
NAS Gal 5:19 Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality,
KJV Gal 5:20 Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies,
NAS Gal 5:20 idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions,
4. The apostle John likewise distinguishes the worship of demons and idolatry (Rev. 9:20) from sorceries (Rev. 9:21):
KJV Rev 9:20 And the rest of the men which were not killed by these plagues yet repented not of the works of their hands, that they should not worship devils, and idols of gold, and silver, and brass, and stone, and of wood: which neither can see, nor hear, nor walk:
NAS Rev 9:20 And the rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands, so as not to worship demons, and the idols of gold and of silver and of brass and of stone and of wood, which can neither see nor hear nor walk;
KJV Rev 9:21 Neither repented they of their murders, nor of their sorceries, nor of their fornication, nor of their thefts.
NAS Rev 9:21 and they did not repent of their murders nor of their sorceries nor of their immorality nor of their thefts.
These four passages that are from both Testaments (as well as other passages) teach us plainly that we must not think of idolatry and occult practices as if they were basically the same sin. In our consideration, therefore, of cultural issues that are hotly debated among believers, such as the propriety of using rock music for Christian worship, we must be careful not to lump idolatry and the occult together.
This distinction is vital to keep in mind because the disputed teaching in passages that speak about idolatry, such as 1 Corinthians 8-11, does not apply to instances of cultural issues that involve contact with the occult. Those who argue that eating meat offered to idols is no problem for Christians when that meat is eaten outside of the context of actual idol worship cannot legitimately extend that teaching to say that Christian use of things associated with occult practices are similarly not a problem for believers outside their use in actual occult practices.
Scripture categorically forbids believers from having any contact with the occult and its practitioners. None of the passages typically cited in discussions of Christian liberty apply to Christian contact with the occult and things associated with the occult, and believers must shun all such contact.